Good luck trying to resist the charms of Rocket Science, writer/director Jeffrey Blitz's cute as a button Sundance charmer about the very awkward years of high school. Everything from the young cast of unknowns to Blitz's own wistful directing style to the original score by Eef Barzelay (Clem Snide) screams festival favorite but unlike some of the more shrill, aggressively quirky comedies to arrive out of Sundance (Napoleon Dynamite anyone?) Rocket Science is a top notch, feel-good high school classic. It crystallizes the pain of Hal Hefner, (Reece Thompson) a social outcast with an embarrassing stutter into such a clear, inescapably heartbreaking affair that it's hard to look away even from his biggest trainwreck moments. Rarely do conventional John Hughes, "My So-Called Life" type situations sting with such truth. But they do here. Maybe better than anywhere ever before.
Hefner's level of abuse hits new heights when a speech and debate superstar, Ginny Ryerson, (Anna Kendrick in a no-joke Oscar-worthy performance of hard to pin down complexity) handpicks him to be her speech partner following the fateful undoing of the legendary Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto) at last year's big statewide debate showdown. She trains him and leads him to the slaughter as best she can and Hal's sad little efforts to live up to her expectations only worsens the disappointments ahead. The film is most specifically about Hal discovering his voice, literally and figuratively, but unlike most films where the protagonist's academic goal is just one good studying montage out of his reach, Hal must come to realize that he's facing a much longer and painful life process. The maturity of the film in its resolve to keep the characters dreaming but never serve up quick satisfaction is remarkable and original. With something this keenly radical, there's just no telling where Hal will end up or whether he'll ever really succeed at his objective. In the end, it's got a lot to do with small victories and patience, a more practical and responsible life lesson than those offered up by most dim bulb underdog tales. This is a real winner.